A/N- For such a short story, it might surprise you to hear that this is a collaboration between six people. Credit goes to Sian, Talie, Sophie, Lauren and Toby for working on this story with me.
I took the key from under the flower pot and let myself in. The house was eerily quiet; my grandmother at church. But all the same, I closed the door quietly behind me. Creeping in, I passed over the creaky step and opened Gran's door. I flipped the light. Immediately, I lost my hesitation, throwing open the wardrobe doors and digging through layer after layer of silken nightgowns, burrowing down to where I knew she kept her notes.
Nothing there. She knew me too well. Angrily, I slammed the wardrobe shut, my addiction stabbing at my brain like needles. Abruptly, my work phone rang, buzzing like an angry bee against my thigh. I flipped it open.
"What do you want?" I demanded.
"Hey Lucy? Got some work for you." It was Johnny, his voice characteristically smooth and pleasant, quite at odds with his occupation.
I halted my thievery. My addiction purred in anticipation.
"Well make sure they bring cash, Johnny. The last punter wanted to start a fucking tab."
A chuckle emanated over the phone.
"I'll make sure, Luce."
I pressed 'End' feeling a strange mixture of satisfaction and disgust. This was only temporary. Just for some extra dough.
At my feet was a strange tin box I'd never seen before, uncovered by my frantic search. Curious, I sat down on the floor and folded my legs like the schoolgirl I'd been, only a few years previously. I flipped the lid. The contents made me freeze.
I've always hated my mother. I was only six when she left me with Gran, abandoning me to a loveless childhood with a stone-hearted woman. Gran hated me - hating my resemblance to the daughter she'd disowned. I knew next to nothing about Mum; I didn't want to know. After all, she hadn't wanted anything to do with me, a fact only emphasised when she committed suicide.
What I saw next, turned my world on its head. An old newspaper, dated twelve years previously. The front page proclaimed:
"MYSTERY DEATH - LOCAL WOMAN FOUND DROWNED IN FLAT"
Underneath was a picture of my mother. She'd been discovered in the red light district. A bare room and a bed. Cause of death unknown. Lungs filled with blood. She'd drowned… Drowned in blood. But how? No break in. No injuries. No logical explanation. It certainly wasn't the suicide my grandmother described.
In an instant, the mother I'd heard of all my life was a completely different woman. I felt betrayed.
"What, in heavens, do you think you're doing?"
I jumped a foot in the air. My grandmother stood in the doorway.
She regarded the mess around the room with a mixture of horror, shock and rage on her wrinkled features. Her anger turned on me, eyes like steel and face reddening.
"How dare you?" She hissed vehemently. "Going through my personal things... How dare you?"
My own anger swelled.
"How dare I?" I clutched the article in my hand and strode across the room to her. "How dare you? How could you keep this from me?" I shook the ageing piece of paper in her face. "Ruth Stevens? That's my mother! My Mum. I thought she'd killed herself. I thought…"
My anger vanished as quickly as it had come, leaving utter despair. Overwhelmed, I sank to the floor.
"Please," I whispered, tears rolling freely down my face, "please tell me what happened."
"You shouldn't have gone through my things."
I looked up, pleadingly, and saw my grandmother, looking older than ever, eyes red and puffy and tear tracks on her face.
"I need to know, Gran. Please. Did she love me at all? Why did she leave?"
"Did she really… drown?"
Grandmother clenched her eyes shut. "You shouldn't go through my things."
"Tell me!" I cried. "She's my mother, I need to know!"
"A waste of space, that's what she was," screamed the old woman suddenly. "A whore! She didn't deserve you. You or anyone!"
I shuffled across towards her, desperation seeping from every pore.
"You shouldn't go through my things..."
Clutching the newspaper clipping to my chest, I ran from the house.
And I ran. And I ran. Sobbing uncontrollably, until I couldn't breathe, until my legs wouldn't hold me up. I crashed to the hard pavement, crying until there were no tears left. Feeling the paper still in my hand, I re-read the article, picking out two names that weren't my mother.
The detective heading the investigation, DCI Madison, and another man, Steve Weatherly.
Q. R. S…T. U. V… W. W. W. Does anyone use a telephone directory these days? Weatherall. Weatheram. WEATHERBY… Mr . Whether to call? Whether to visit? Whether he'd even speak to me.
Ding Dong, Ding Dong. Ding Dong, Ding Dong.
Nervously I stood by the door. Undecided whether or not to knock. Not knowing what to expect. And what did I want to hear? As I turned away, the door suddenly sprung open.
"Who the fuck are you?"
A girl, no older then sixteen. Hands on hips. Oozing attitude.
As I stumbled for words, an older-looking guy appeared beside her. All fake tan and cheap jewellery.
"What's going on, Princess? Who's this then?"
The girl just shrugged and disappeared into the house, leaving me and him. Awkward. Uncomfortable.
"Does a 'Steve Weatherly' live here?"
The words fell out, as if my mouth and brain weren't working as a cohesive unit.
"I think you knew my mum,"
"Wrong house," he spat, and started to shut the door.
"My Mum…Ruth Stevens?"
Like a guilty child he glanced left and right. He put his finger to his lips and seized my wrist, dragging me down the side alley. Out of sight in the back garden, his tone softened to a whisper.
"What do you want from me? Money?"
"So you know who she is?"
"That was a long time ago. I've changed."
"What do you mean you've changed?"
He paced backwards and forwards on the stone path, hands thrust deep in tracksuit pockets.
"What things? What happened to my mother?
"She was a… you know… On the game."
"No. No. You're lying. She was my mother, she wouldn't… she wouldn't…"
"She only did it for you. For you to have a better life. She loved you."
It didn't make any sense. No sense at all.
"So why suicide?"
His head bowed.
"That's for someone else to answer."
"But I'm asking you."
He span round as a voice came from the house.
"Dad? Where are you? I'm going to be late."
Steve gestured to be quiet.
"Go wait in the car, Princess. I'll only be a minute."
"Look. I've got my own life now. Just leave it. Right?" And with that, he turned on his heels and entered the house, slamming the door behind him.
The reception of the police station teemed. The law abiding. The law breakers. The law enforcers. I conceded it would be a long wait, but I needed answers. I approached the counter, manned by a stern hulk of a policeman. I felt guilty just to be asking a question.
"I'm Lucy Stevens. I was hoping to ask someone about my mother. Ruth Stevens?"
Immediately, his expression hardened. "Do you have permission from the person in question?" he asked aggressively.
"No. She's dead."
"Well I'm afraid, I'm not at liberty to divulge…"
He must have seen my despair, adding simply, "Look. I'm sorry".
The disappointment was overwhelming. Where could I go next for information? No sooner had the thought crossed my mind, a tall, slim man placed his hand on my shoulder.
"Hi, Lucy. I'm DCI Madison. I dealt with your mother's case."
I was intrigued and nervous, although I couldn't pinpoint why I felt so scared. Questions flooded out and drowned the DCI but I had to know everything. This was the perfect opportunity.
"The case seemed a simple suicide at first, but after talking to your mother's clients and acquaintances I concluded there was more to it."
He paused. I was eager to hear more.
"Your mother, from what I understand, led a difficult life. Abusive partner. Abusive punters. It appears she was forced into prostitution to buy food for her family. For you. She began to distance herself from those she knew. There was guilt. Then depression. That would explain why people, and the newspapers, suggested suicide. I, however, never felt comfortable with that verdict."
I was confused. I didn't know my mother well, but I never thought my Gran had lied about her death. I felt a sudden overwhelming guilt. Gulit. Like the guilt that must have plagued Mum. Guilt. Sordid, unforgivable guilt. My mother had fucked strangers, to feed me.
I felt sick. Ashamed about my own life choices. Ashamed of my misconceptions. Perhaps the truth about Mum would purge me. Wash away the nauseating shame. The truth of her death, made my life a lie.
"If you don't think my Mum killed herself, how did she die?" I pleaded.
"Who knows. The autopsy showed nothing. No external wounds. No internal rupturing. Yet, she drowned. In her own blood. It's a mystery."
I left the station. Dizzy. Staggering. Choking. My lifelong hatred of Mum, suddenly imploded into hatred of myself. My mother didn't drown in blood. She drowned in her own guilt. And now, gasping for air, I was drowning too.